The messenger logo

Saakashvili denies accusations of war crimes

By Temuri Kiguradze
Thursday, October 30
Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili has given an interview to the BBC in which he denies allegations that war crimes were committed by Georgian Army during the South Ossetian conflict in August.

On October 28 the BBC had published an article which claimed that Georgian soldiers had set out to intentionally destroy housing and kill civilians when they entered South Ossetia. The article combined the accounts of some Tskhinvali residents with the results of an investigation conducted by Human Rights Watch in the breakaway region. Alison Gill, Director of the Moscow office of Human Rights Watch, was quoted as saying: "We're very concerned at the use of indiscriminate force by the Georgian military in Tskhinvali. Tskhinvali is a densely populated city, and as such, military action needs to be undertaken very carefully so as not to endanger civilians.”

“We know that in the early stages there were tank attacks and Grad rockets used by Georgian forces,” she added, as quoted by the BBC. The “defence of the peaceful residents” of South Ossetia was among the reasons Russia gave to justify its intervention in Georgia. The Georgian Ministry of Internal Affairs, responding to a question from The Messenger, has denied that Grad rocket launcher systems were used against populated areas during the conflict.

The BBC also reported that Georgian villages were burnt down and bulldozed by Ossetian separatists “as revenge for the actions of Georgian troops.” “I did everything I could for them [Georgians] not to return. Ever. You can call it ethnic cleaning, but I think I just did it to prevent a future war," said Ossetian resident Zaur Gagloev, quoted by the BBC. He claimed that he personally participated in the burning of Georgian villages, but had killed no one.

Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili commented on Tuesday, “We strongly deny any accusation of war crimes; but of course, we are very open for any kind of comments, we are very open for any kind of investigation. We called for an international investigation into conduct of this war, of the circumstances leading to this war and the circumstances leading to this invasion,” Saakashvili said in his BBC interview. “When you are talking about indiscriminate use of fire, we have clear-cut evidence that the town of Tskhinvali was shelled dozens and maybe hundreds [of times] – but we can prove at this moment, with video footage as well as documentary evidence from the Russian Army and Russian journalists that it was in fact shelled by the Russian troops for several days.”

“There were certainly war crimes committed, but certainly not by us, and certainly we want an investigation of those war crimes; we demand that people responsible are brought to international justice,” Saakashvili added.

The question of the necessity for a “serious” investigation of possible war crimes in the region has been posed by UK Foreign Minister David Miliband, who paid a visit to Georgia soon after the conflict on August 20. “I think the Georgian action was reckless, and I think the Russian response was disproportionate and wrong… It's important that the Russian narrative cannot start with Georgian actions; it has to start with the attacks on Georgians by South Ossetians, the tit-for-tat that got out of control. That is the series of events which have landed us where we are.”

The Russian Government has created a special commission for the investigation of what it calls the “genocide” of the Ossetian people. It claims that 1,600 civilians were killed during the military actions. However this number is considered by Georgia to be artificially inflated, and some international experts including Human Rights Watch concur with this view.